Klemperer and the New/Philharmonia:“This orchestra is all my joy.” “Ladies and gentlemen, at Dr. Klemperer’s request the New Philharmonia Orchestra will be wearing informal dress for all the concerts which he will be conducting this season.” That was the announcement read out to the audience in the Royal Festival Hall on 26 September 1971 as they were waiting for the concert to start.
Clearly, there wasn’t the slightest hint that this would be Klemperer’s “last concert” – least of all at the BBC, who were expected to broadcast the event but failed to show up. At the final rehearsal Clement Relf, the orchestra’s librarian, had transmitted to the orchestra Klemperer’s idea of “informal” dress: “Short black for the ladies, dark suits for the men.” He let that follow immediately by: “Now can we see if we have an orchestra together that I can get the Old Man?!” For the way he had stood up to him once Relf had earned Klemperer’s respect, even friendship. That there was no thought in Klemperer’s own mind about any “farewell” from the concert platform may be clear from two of the works he planned to include in the 1971–1972 season, Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht and his first-ever Mahler’s Eighth Symphony: “Unsinn, Wahnsinn!” Lotte had interjected (“Nonsense, madness”). Bruckner’s Seventh was scheduled instead for January 1972. He then told EMI he wanted to record the Verdi Requiem, Sibelius’s Fourth and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (the work he had launched his career with in 1906).
In the end, they settled for Mozart’s Die Entfrung aus dem Serail, Bach’s St. John Passion and, tellingly, three works he had recorded with them at the very onset of their collaboration: Brahms’s St. Antony Variations, Mozart’s Serenata Notturna and Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. With hindsight, one could perhaps say there were signs that all was not well. Klemperer was a lot frailer than he had looked in May earlier that year when they had done Mahler’s Second Symphony, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Mahler’s death, and his eyesight was deteriorating. Lotte Klemperer in a letter to Paul Dessau two weeks earlier: “His eyes have become worse – studying, reading, all [have become] more difficult. At this moment we have four different and new pairs of glasses.” In the end, Klemperer had to cancel the Bruckner performance for health reasons. Soon after he announced he would no longer conduct in public. Peter Beavan: “It felt as if we were taking our leave of the last of the giants… and not only in the musical sense for even after all his various physical disasters he still towered above his fellow men, a gaunt Lear.” As Mike Ashman relates in the illuminating notes he wrote for the first publication of this concert on CD by Testament (SBT2 1425, 2008): “Talk to any number of players in the Philharmonia/New Philharmonia who worked with Klemperer and you will encounter a rich vein of affection for a musician who, when they came in for their morning rehearsal, they found was ‘already there.’ Comments like ‘I worshipped him – he was a very great man’, ‘he had a great intellect, and a sense of humour, he was a great supporter of individuals’ (he had backed up a respected senior player in a dispute with the orchestra’s management), are typical.”
This then might well be a fruitful place to start when trying to pinpoint what made the relationship between this orchestra and this conductor so unique and, for Klemperer himself, so different from that with the other great European orchestras he conducted after the war: The mutual understanding and the sense of trust and affection that existed between Klemperer and the orchestra, and which over the years unfolded into a way of making music that left “performing” far behind. It was to create one of the richest episodes in British, if not European musical life. Peter Beavan again: “Underlying it all was a foundation of rocklike rhythm and spiritual awareness that, for me at least, lifted a work such as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis into a realm far beyond earthly music making.” Gareth Morris, principal ﬂutist with the Philharmonia Orchestra from 1948 until 1972, recounting his first concert under Klemperer in 1949: “I felt at once I was in the presence of somebody supremely out of the ordinary who was lost in the music. So, when before the concert I was summoned to his room, I was full of nervous fear that I had not pleased him. He was standing with a score: ‘This note must be very loud. Goodbye, we shall meet at the concert.’ We shook hands and I was his slave.”
In Long Journey we hear him add: “But I must say, at the rehearsal, the first time I saw him, he appeared a terrifying and very strange ﬁgure. His tie half undone, because he couldn’t do it with his hands, and he appeared odd. But of course: so sure of the music!” As we can witness in Long Journey and Last Concert, Klemperer’s physical movements prior to his brain tumour operation in 1939 had been forceful and direct, instilling in his players an overriding sense of clarity and purpose. His “odd” appearance after that was marked by the partial paralysis on the left side of his face and of his right arm the operation had left him with. The hip fracture in 1951 and the insertion of a permanent metal pin meant that he would now conduct mainly sitting down. When, in September 1958, he suffered 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over 15 per cent of his body, disabling him from conducting for a whole year, it put a further strain on his physical abilities. And yet, in the years that followed he created with the Philharmonia/New Philharmonia Orchestra performances of tremendous expressive power and structural command, reaching again a new level of interpretative insight into the “signification of the form of music” (Pierre Boulez). “He let you play your instrument and produce sounds: he gave you time to play,” violinist Gillian Eastwood told Mike Ashman.
After a rehearsal of Strauss’s notoriously difficult Don Juan, she and her desk partner had felt: “That was easy. I could play every note.” Even in older age, “whenever Klemperer got onto the rostrum and his hands got up, the music came to life.” The technical shortcomings, remembered another player, “were purely physical. We used to come in together even in the most tricky spots.” Peter Beavan: “When conducting he used little movement; rather, he presided over the proceedings. He had a little downward, swallow.like movement with his right hand to bring in solo instruments, but in general he let the music ﬂow. Even without much apparent direction, however, there was an immense feeling of inevitability about any of his tempi; yet, somehow there was always time to turn corners.” Another element that may well have served to cement the bond between them and may help explain its lasting strength was Klemperer’s mordant wit.
As Nicolai Gedda sensed, Klemperer’s sardonic sense of humour sprang from a deep sense of irony, and informed his entire character and personality. While Bregstein’s Long Journey goes a long way in showing us why this should be so, what seems less evident is why it should have struck a far deeper chord with an orchestra of largely British players than with their counterparts on the Continent. The fact remains that the Philharmonia quickly took to Klemperer’s style of working and grew to love him for it. In his small but incomparable collection of Klempererisms Peter Beavan – cellist with the Philharmonia already at the time of Klemperer’s first recordings for EMI – has left us a record of “interacting voices” between the Maestro and his orchestra that illustrates this relationship better than anything else: During a recording of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony one of the cellos came in a bar early. Principal cellist Raymond Clark said nothing, but when it happened a second time, he rose in wrath and turning round to the section, delivered a tirade: “Count your bars, always count your bars – never rely on the person next to you, count for yourself, don’t leave it to anyone else! Here, I’ve been counting for 40 years now…” At which point Klemperer leaned down with a sardonic leer and asked: “And how far have you got, Mr. Clark?”
In the same symphony, after a particularly rugged entry, Clark asked: “Dr. Klemperer, will you give us a very clear beat at this point and we will get it right for the ﬁrst time in musical history.” Another leer, and back came: “In British musical history!” In rehearsals, individual solo passages would often be followed by colleagues shufﬂing their feet in approval, not always merited, only to be met with a growl from the conductor’s desk: “Success is easy in this orchestra!” During their now legendary recording of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, one of the soloists was not completely satisﬁed with his own performance and called out to one of Klemperer’s entourage: “Please, may I sing it again?” This was conveyed to the Maestro, who growled: “Why? It might get worse.” To which the singer replied: “Ah, but it might get better.” Only to be crushed by: “We can’t wait that long!” Clem Relf formed no exception. Klemperer was always very conscious about his string parts being bowed and marked with his favourite “Come out” in red under salient passages, and Clem always helped him. As he told Beavan, one morning early in the week preceding a concert Clem was greeted with: “Mr. Relf, you will help me mark the parts for the next concert?” “Of course, Dr. Klemperer; when would you like?” “Saturday afternoon, Mr. Relf.” Clem’s face fell, and Klemperer asked: “What is the matter, Mr. Relf – you do not like Saturday afternoon?” “Well, Dr. Klemperer, I usually go to a football match on Saturday afternoon.” This was too much for Klemperer and he just gave a derisive snort.
However, Friday came and as Clem was leaving the Hall Dr. Klemperer called out: “Mr. Relf, you need not come tomorrow afternoon; I have marked the parts myself.” “Oh, thank you, Dr. Klemperer.” But as he reached the exit, a stentorian shout followed him: “And I hope they lose!” When asked by John Freeman in his 1960 BBC interview whether he enjoyed conducting in London with the Philharmonia, Klemperer, then 75 years old, immediately responded: “Oh yes, very much! The orchestra is… all my joy!” Friedman: “And they are very good.” Klemperer: “Very good!” Then adds, clearly relishing the fact of what he is going to say: “And they are very good to me!” A whole decade of glorious performances was yet to follow, of which the many recordings that we have – studio as well as “live” – form an enduring testimony. It was to culminate in the flowering of what one rightly may call Klemperer’s “late style”. Klemperer’s “Late Style” Otto Klemperer was a conductor of extremes. His music reflected his bipolar personality: in Budapest (1948) he forced an impossibly fast tempo on his Don Giovanni for his champagne aria, in Sydney (1950) he conducted the fastest, in London (1971) the slowest Mahler Second Symphony of all time. Then, in his later recordings, starting around 1967, everything becomes quieter.
More than ever before, Klemperer’s main pre-occupation remains musical structure, but now no longer with the harshness so typical of the 1950’s, instead a sometimes almost lyrical gentleness makes itself felt. Might one talk here of the wisdom of old age? This new element is especially traceable in live recordings. Everything flows, but never loses purpose. On the contrary: the musical structure reveals itself with ever greater clarity. When, in the 1920’s, Ernst Bloch spoke of an energetic “precise burning” (“Nirgends brennen wir genauer”, i.e., “nowhere do we burn more precisely”), by which he meant a synthesis between intellect and passionate emotion, in the late performances from his Indian Summer we detect rather a synthesis between crystal clear structure and lyrical serenity – which however has nothing to do with “softness”. What does keep coming through also here is the relentless nature of Klemperer’s creative will. When heard in this way, the sometimes extremely slow tempi are found to generate a particularly powerful tension. The music no longer sounds “slow”, but obtains greater transparency and becomes – one hesitates to say it – more “affectionate”, while underpinned as always by Klemperer’s scrupulously enforced discipline and his fixation with the smallest musical detail. Ample proof of this we find in the rehearsal excerpts Bregstein captured in his Last Concert ﬁ lm. Of course, in live recordings not everything always comes out perfect. Least of all with Klemperer. It didn’t bother him much when a horn happened to squeak or there was a temporary loss in ensemble. This could lead to downright awkward situations, as happened for example in 1968 during the concert performance of The Flying Dutchman: Peter Heyworth reports that “at moments the orchestral ensemble was precarious, and in at least one passage disaster was only narrowly averted.” He then immediately adds: “But such imperfections were of little account” before describing a performance of overwhelming power. In the present recording of his final concert we encounter similar critical moments, in particular at the beginning of the King Stephen Overture and the Brahms symphony.
No wonder, with a conductor who is here 86 years old and so obviously hampered by the many medical handicaps inflicted upon him through the years that, when seeing him for the very first time on ﬁ lm, one inevitably needs a few moments to adjust. In spite of all that, even in these later years when, as Peter Beavan tells us, “during rehearsals we would sometimes wonder how the performance could possibly hold together, Klemperer would summon up incredible reserves of concentration and at the concert there would be once again the familiar feeling of power and overall command.” Antony Beaumont, who had joined the second violins for the concert as substitute player, gives a striking description towards the end of Last Concert (54:15): There was something – as I say, I can’t put it into words either – but there was something I never experienced with any other conductor at any other time, something that was telling me, and the whole orchestra, what he wanted. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was his way of saying: ‘This is what the music wants’. As I say, he was working as a kind of vessel, an intermediary between whatever it is that makes this music what it is, putting his actual willpower in some kind of invisible energy.
When listening to the performance on the present audio recording, one should in no way have in mind the ﬁrebrand that Klemperer was in the 1950s or even think of his years at the Berlin Kroll Opera, in Los Angeles or Budapest. As long as one remains stuck on “early” Klemperer, one will fail to recognise what emerges as new in his “late” interpretations. Neither should one refer to his late studio recordings, which tend to lack the vibrancy that marks the live concert recordings, something one cannot help noticing with especially the slow tempi, which the studio seemed to rob of momentum. As both the Long Journey and the Last Concert films illustrate, Klemperer clearly felt unhappy in the recording studio and seems to almost resent it when producers interrupt him. When at one point someone explained to him the technical advantages of tape splicing, he turned to his daughter Lotte and said, horrified: “Lotte, so ein Schwindel!” Fortunately, many live recordings of Klemperer concerts have survived from all periods of his life: Starting with a few snippets from a Berlin radio concert (1932), to Los Angeles (1934), via the main stations of his career during the 1940’s and 1950’s (Budapest, Amsterdam, Cologne), till the many recordings that date from the 1960s, and, from 1964 onwards, those with the New Philharmonia, while numerous further guest appearances with prominent orchestras in Europe and the USA, or even less famous ones, like the Jerusalem Radio Orchestra in Israel, have also survived (for full details, see www.archiphon.de). In all of these one hears the resounding effect of how “late” Klemperer gives his vibrant creative aura free rein.
TECHNICAL COMMENTS ON THE RECORDING
In his introducture notes to the Last Concert Philo Bregstein vividly describes how far from optimal the conditions were for his ﬁlm team had to work with. Similarly unfavourable were the conditions for the audio recording he made during the concert. He was allowed to ﬁlm only the ﬁrst movement of the Brahms symphony. Fortunately, he kept his tape recorder running from beginning till end! Apparently, there was no up-to-date tape deck on hand – the recording was done in mono. It has been impossible to locate the master tape, which Bregstein transferred at the time to the Klemperer Archive in the Library of Congress. For the production of the present audio recording we worked with copies of the master tapes that ran at 19 cm/s and had been recorded on one track only. The tapes have been re-mastered using an AEG M-15 tape machine via a Benchmark A/D converter (adc1) and an interface by RME (Fireface 400) in high resolution WAV data (96 kHz/24 bit).
Dick Bruggeman & Werner Unger